I had a very provocative dinner table conversation last night, with a woman who is a passionate advocate for social justice. At 15 she set up a special breakfast at her school for poor aboriginal children because they had no food. She has continued to be an activist for social causes her entire life. She made a statement that initially I objected to but eventually agreed with. “Ideology is one of the biggest issues that stands in the way of social justice.” She also claimed, as many people do, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” and wrapped ideology, church and religion together. The conversation made me think about how Christians distiguish between “ideology” — which is harmful — and . . .? What is the Christian antidote for ideology? Do we need an antidote? Will we bring the antidote into the world to help the cause of social justice?
What would Jesus do?
First of all, I had to admit to myself that I didn’t know the answer to these questions. Any word I tried to use to describe the Christian antidote to ideology seemed to have problems of its own. Ideology versus faith? Ideology versus morality? Ideology versus love? If I am trapped in ideology aren’t these words also infected and twisted? Do I somehow claim a perfect understanding of “Jesus’ mind” and what he would do to overcome ideology? Isn’t that pride, the deadliest of sins? It seemed to me that, as a Christian, the only way out of this dilemma was to both understand what Jesus did during his life as well as how thinkers in the church since then have dealt with this question of ideology versus “right thinking and acting.”
“Right thinking and acting”
If you read the four Gospels — the stories of his life — it is obvious that Jesus did not buy into any of the religious, political or cultural ideologies of his time. He lived in opposition to them but did not create a counter- ideology. He simply announced and lived what “right thinking and acting” in God’s kingdom is all about — feeding the hungry, healing the sick, befriending the stranger and especially caring for the poor. You could say that, like my dinner guest, Jesus was advocating and living social justice. [He was spiritual but, unlike her, he was a Jew and generally followed that religious tradition but not any of its prevailing ideologies.] After Jesus, Christian thinkers down through the ages have dealt with the specifics of social justice but, it is safe to say, not one has ever disputed that social justice was part of Jesus’ core message about “right thinking and acting” in God’s Kingdom.
So, what must I do?
The answer is simple to my pragmatic Australian dinner guest. “Get on with it!” Don’t let my ideology get in the way of social justice. Don’t say to myself, “Well ____ doesn’t deserve my concern and help because she ______.” [You fill in your favorite ideological targets.] Go read my previous post about Christians and Moslems if you want to think about your ideology about a specific issue. Christians and Moslems: A Way Forward. Or pick your favorite sin — abortion, drugs, fornication — and see how you thnk about and care for the “sinners” engaged in such activities. But most of all begin to question, “How is my Christian ideology blocking following Jesus’ way?”
© 2012, James Harlow Brown. All rights reserved.